THE GUARDIAN 🔵 UK’s two-child benefit cap hit 1.6m children last year, figures show – Shango Media
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THE GUARDIAN 🔵 UK’s two-child benefit cap hit 1.6m children last year, figures show

The Labour government has come under fresh pressure to abolish the two-child benefit limit after latest official figures showed a record 1.6 million children were living in families affected by the controversial policy.

Campaigners and charities described the figures as “shameful” and renewed calls for the benefit limit to be scrapped, saying the much-criticised policy introduced by the Conservative government seven years ago had become the UK’s biggest single driver of child poverty.

A total of 1.6 million children – equivalent to one in nine of all UK children – were affected by the policy last year, an increase of 100,000, the latest statistics show. Just under two-thirds (59%) of the 450,000 households hit had at least one parent in work.

The policy prevents parents on universal credit claiming benefit support for any third or subsequent child born after April 2017. Currently, this means families lose out on £3,455 a year for each child affected, subjecting many to hunger and hardship.

Joseph Howes, the chair of the End Child Poverty coalition, said: “If the aim is to reduce child poverty, there is no way for the new Labour government to keep this policy in place when the evidence shows that the number of children impacted is increasing year on year.”

He added: “Children living in poverty cannot wait any longer – this shameful policy must be scrapped, the time for action is now.”

Responding to the figures, the work and pensions secretary, Liz Kendall, said it was “a stain on our society” that too many children were growing up in poverty but gave no clear sign that Labour would abolish the two-child limit.

“We will work to give every child the best start in life by delivering our manifesto commitment to implement an ambitious strategy to reduce child poverty. I will hold critical meetings with charities and experts next week to get this urgent work under way,” she said.

According to the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), abolishing the two-child limit would cost £1.7bn but would be the most cost-effective way of immediately reducing child poverty, lifting 300,000 children above the breadline and pulling 700,000 more out of extreme poverty.

Alison Garnham, the chief executive of CPAG, said: “The PM came to office pledging a bold, ambitious child poverty-reduction plan and there’s no way to deliver on that promise without scrapping the two-child limit, and fast. This is not the time for procrastination or prevarication – the futures of 1.6 million children are on the line.”

A CPAG survey published on Thursday of parents affected by the two-child limit found they struggled to provide food and clothing for their children, and were unable to afford school trips or holidays.

One parent cited in the survey said: “My number one reason for doing anything is my children, yet when I watch them queueing in a food bank with me because I physically can’t provide for them, I feel horrific, it makes you feel like an absolute failure.”

Ruth Patrick, a professor in social policy at the University of York and a social security expert, said: “The two-child limit can and must be removed; a vital first step if Starmer’s Labour government is to meet its ambition to get the historically high rates of child poverty it inherited down.”

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A notorious aspect of the policy is its exemption for children born as a result of rape. Last year 3,100 mothers were able to claim full benefit entitlements having declared on official forms their child was the victim of “non-consensual conception”.

Keir Starmer last year faced down demands from campaigners, MPs and party activists to scrap the policy, arguing it was critical to demonstrate fiscal discipline by not making unfunded spending commitments before a general election.

But with a huge parliamentary majority, the government will come under renewed pressure to abandon a policy that has not only become totemic of rising poverty and brutal austerity cuts but has largely failed on its own terms.

The two-child policy was introduced in 2017 on the basis that cutting benefits by more than £3,000 a year for the third and each subsequent child would persuade low-income parents to get jobs. However, subsequent research has shown it has had no impact on employment levels, but is more likely to drive families into poverty.

Although one former Tory welfare secretary notoriously said the policy would teach low-income families that “children cost money”, it has had little impact on restricting family size, with research suggesting the fertility rate for third and subsequent children born to poorer families has barely shifted.

Even Conservatives have disowned the policy. Earlier this year the rightwing Tory MP Suella Braverman called for it to be scrapped. The former Tory welfare minister Lord Freud has described it as “vicious” and an “excrescence”, forced on reluctant DWP ministers by the Treasury as the price of introducing universal credit.

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